Travel More for Free

Driving up the coast in a Land Rover
Driving up the coast in a Land Rover

by Jeff Hoyt

I recently wrote about how charge and credit cards bonus points can be used to travel for free. That is certainly true, but the more you know, the more bang you’ll get for your no bucks!

I have accumulated more than 150,000 American Express Membership Rewards points on my own. But American Express offered to give me an additional 250,000 points to book my family summer vacation through them, and I was thrilled by the opportunity.

The first thing I thought about was booking airfare, as that tends to increase as flight time approaches. The good news is that there are no blackout dates or other restrictions when using Membership Rewards points. If I transferred the points to an airline frequent flyer program, then I could have been subjected to blackout dates.

While recently celebrating my youngest daughter’s second birthday was a happy moment as a parent, it was sad as a traveler, since it meant having to spring for an additional airline ticket on top of diapers. With her mom and four-year-old sister as the rest of the vacationers, four airline tickets were required.

I’ve learned through experience that changing time zones with little ones has unpredictable but usually negative results. With my Membership Rewards “budget” I could have gotten four tickets to New York to visit family, but I would have had to stay with family as well, and be prepared to apologize for kids playing joyfully and noisily at 3 a.m. while the rest of the house desperately wanted to sleep. There would have been enough points left over for a rental car, but not for a length of time at a hotel. And don’t get me started on the joys of flying with multiple car seats and trying to install them in the rental car parking lot!

After much deliberation, I decided to drive our own car (complete with our own car seats) and use the points locally at hotels. However, I discovered that your Membership Rewards points go further in the air than on the ground. When cashing them in for flights, it takes 100 points to save a dollar. But at hotels, the conversion rate is about 133 per dollar which is much less favorable. So I suggest using Membership Rewards points for airfares when you can. Even if you don’t have enough points to cover all of your airfare, you can still apply the points you have, and make up the difference in cash.

Another thing I’ve learned about traveling with wee ones is you want to put a wall between you and them. When it’s their bedtime, you don’t want to have to sit in a quiet, dark hotel room for fear of disturbing them waiting until it’s time for you to go to bed. Second, when you’re trying to sleep, you don’t want them to wake up in the middle of the night, realize parents are right there, and start bellowing for them until everyone is awake. While one tyke may then be content to go back to sleep in a parents’ arms, her sister may decide it is no longer sleepy-time, but playtime. During a recent trip to Palm Springs where we all shared a room, my oldest, tired of being awakened repeatedly by her sister asked me, “Daddy, how come we don’t have a living room?”

So I plan on using the points to rent a suite for a few nights at a top, kid-friendly hotel. By catching up on sleep, I hope to remember another reason why it’s good for a couple to have a hotel bedroom all too themselves.

You can click on each photo to enlarge.

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